16 May 2016
by John Passant

In defence of Duncan

Duncan Storrar

Duncan Storrar asked a question on Q&A on Monday night and then made a comment that, with blinding clarity, highlighted the unfairness of the Budget and the wealth shifting agenda of the ruling class. Here is part of his exchange with Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer and Chief Executive of Australian Industry Group Innes Willox.

“I’ve got a disability and a low education, that means I’ve spent my whole life working for minimum wage. You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people,” he said, addressing federal minister O’Dwyer.

“If you lift my tax-free threshold, that changes my life,” he went on. “That means that I get to say to my little girls, ‘Daddy’s not broke this weekend. We can go to the pictures’. Rich people don’t even notice their tax-free threshold lift. Why don’t I get it? Why do they get it?”

O’Dwyer told him it was all about balance (seriously!) and business now being able to buy $6000 toasters.

Willox said:

“Duncan, I’ll be harsh in my message. If you’re on the minimum wage and with a family, you would not pay much tax, if any at all. Would you? You would not pay much tax.”

Duncan replied:

“I pay tax every time I go to the supermarket. Every time I hop in my car.”

The exchange revealed how out of touch the ruling class are. Duncan’s question and response resonated with many many working class people whose living standards have been under attack or falling or who are seeing growing inequality and wondering why the rich are getting richer but they are not.

The Murdoch press have unleashed a barrage of ‘revelations’ about Duncan. They are making clear that debates about the future of and future direction for capitalism are limited to the ruling class and their politicians, not poor people and workers struggling to get by. Dissent is verboten. Where a pleb like Duncan does slip though the heavily guarded battlements then the king’s entourage vilify him. Democracy is OK as long as it is effectively limited to polite chatter among the circles of the 1%.

The ruling class don’t and won’t address his valid point, because they can’t. Trickle down economics (which is what O’Dwyer was getting at when she referred to balance) is indefensible.

So the Murdoch mudslingers attacked the man rather than address the point he was making. I look forward to News Corpse now exposing the peccadilloes, misdemeanors, malfeasances and crimes of the ruling class. Phone hacking might be a good place to start. Some of the journalists at News and Fox have sordid histories too. Why not expose them?

Murdoch’s minions might then go on to investigate the underbelly of News Corpse’s tax affairs and why on $2.8 billion revenue News Australia Holdings Pty Ltd paid no tax in Australia. According to a report last year in the Financial Review, News is the ATO’s top tax risk.

Willox, and Murdoch, and other ruling class members, have a stock standard response to questions and comments like Duncan’s. You pay no net tax. Just think about that. Apparently the only people who have a right to discuss and debate issues are those who pay net tax. That rules out News from the discussion then, does it?

The very idea is anti-democratic to its core, but democracy is an add on to capitalism that was fought and won by the working class from the ruling class and can be disposed of, or restricted, when the primary goal of capitalism, the extraction of profit from workers, is threatened, or even queried.

The net tax argument is also wrong. It does not, as Duncan made clear, include the GST. As ACOSS says: ‘Households in the lowest income quintile pay 21% of their income (after income tax) in indirect taxes, whereas the highest income quintile pays only 8%.’ The same report shows that the lowest 5% pay 34% of their income in GST and for the top 5% the figure is 6%. (See ACOSS, Inequality in Australia, page 28.)

First, if you include GST and other taxes in the ‘ net’ tax calculations then taxes effectively vary a little around 25% of income across all income deciles, (being slightly progressive), except for the bottom 5%. Their contribution is well above everyone else’s at 34.2% of income. By contrast the top 5%’s contribution is only 30.2% of their income. Again, see the ACOSS report referred to above at page 28.

Second, revenue raising and spending are separate issues. To net them off is a false equivalence.

Third, spending on social welfare is part of the social wage which is itself part of the value of labour power. If it is removed or cut then workers could and should make it up with wage increases if they are to retain the overall value of their labour power and their current standards of living.

Fourth, the conservatives do not factor support for the rich and business, either directly through grants or indirectly through the billions upon billions of tax expenditures (exemptions etc which as superannuation and the capital gains tax discount show overwhelmingly favour the well off.)

Fifth, this social welfare spending buys some form of social peace, and this is especially important for the ruling class both personally and economically.

Sixth, the economic history of the last few decades has been the history of growing inequality in Australia and across the globe. The causes are not individual but systemic. Duncan has not failed the system. the system has failed him.

Duncan’s contribution on Q&A on Monday night was a lightning rod of class clarity. That is why the ruling class is trying to silence his message and punish him and anyone else who might expose the rotten reality of Australia today. Defend democracy. Defend Duncan.